Black living standards in South Africa before democracy: New evidence from heights

Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP10/2017
 
Publication date: October 2017
 
Author(s):
[protected email address] (Department of Economics, Stellenbosch University)
[protected email address] (Department of Economics, Stellenbosch University)
[protected email address] (Department of History, University of Guelph, Canada)
 
Abstract:

Very little income or wage data was systematically recorded on the living standards of South Africa’s black majority during much of the twentieth century. This paper uses four data sets to document, for the first time, an alternative measure of living standards: the stature of black South Africans over the course of the twentieth century. We find evidence to suggest that the first three decades of the century were particularly bad, perhaps due to the increasingly repressive labour policies in urban areas and famine and land expropriation that weighted especially heavily on the Basotho. The decade following South Africa’s departure from the gold standard, a higher international gold price and the demand for manufactured goods from South Africa due to the Second World War seem to have benefited both black and white South Africans. The data also allow us to disaggregate by ethnicity within the black population group, revealing levels of inequality within race group that has been neglected in the literature. Finally, we compare black and white living standards, revealing the large and widening levels of inequality that characterised twentieth-century South Africa.

 
JEL Classification:

N37

Keywords:

apartheid, living standards, South Africa, heights, anthropometric, twentieth century

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BER Weekly

10 December
Dominating the domestic headlines last week was the news that South Africa exited a technical recession in 2018Q3. While this was widely expected, the pace of GDP growth surprised on the upside. More on this in the domestic section. After the release of some survey data for the fourth quarter (see domestic section for details), a spate of actual activity...

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Upcoming Seminars

No seminars are currently listed. Please check back soon.
 
More...

BER Weekly

10 December
Dominating the domestic headlines last week was the news that South Africa exited a technical recession in 2018Q3. While this was widely expected, the pace of GDP growth surprised on the upside. More on this in the domestic section. After the release of some survey data for the fourth quarter (see domestic section for details), a spate of actual activity...

Read the full issue